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USAID media partner in the East adopts gender-sensitive policy, attracts women readers, and successfully advocates for greater women’s representation in the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group

Online media OstroV has been a reliable source of information on social and political topics for Donbas residents for over 20 years. In 2014, both the editorial board and journalists were forced to move to Kyiv because of the Russia-Ukraine war in the East. Despite the war and relocation, the media team managed to maintain its loyal audience – including in the non-government-controlled territories of  Donetsk and Luhansk regions – by providing access to high-quality news reports. According to OstroV team, 64% of the outlet’s monthly audience of 765,000 viewers were men, and experts who provided comments for media reports were disproportionately male.

 

With USAID support, in June 2020, OstroV team launched a nine-month project to raise awareness of gender sensitive issues among citizens of  Donetsk and Luhansk regions through quality content production. During the project, journalists published the commentary of 165 female experts on social, economic, and political news. Nine multimedia publications exposed gender stereotypes in children’s upbringing, women in armed forces and at war, gender-based and domestic violence, domestic sexism, and sexism in media and advertising, gathering 48,000 views in total.

 Maria Zolkina, a political analyst with Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, giving her interview with OstroV. Source: OstroV.

OstroV told 192 stories about women who have succeeded in areas such as business, politics, public administration, medicine, and education. Those video and text reports were republished 150 times by other regional and local media. OstroV conducted polls on various gender topics on its Facebook to learn about the opinions of different audiences and foster public debate on gender equality as well as the political and economic participation of women. The polls reached 67,000 people and prompted 325 comments and 1774 reactions.

OstroV journalists shot nine video interviews on urgent social and political topics with women experts from Donbas, including an artist, a scientist, a journalist, a soldier, a sociologist, and a public activist. Women professionals working in the government and private sectors or who were actively engaged in local communities were invited to the studio to tell stories of female empowerment. Individuals originating from or living in Donbas shared their stories of achievement in what have been perceived as male-dominated fields. These stories highlighted successful women in jobs perceived as “male,” such as the armed forces, IT, and police, as well as successful men in roles traditionally considered to be female, such as caregivers, babysitters, nurses, and obstetricians. Interviews were published on the media’s website and YouTube channel, garnering 92,550 views. Overall, OstroV articles, news and interviews reached a total of over 16.5 million people. 

The editorial board adopted a policy of gender sensitivity, which became a focus point for developing gender sensitive content. After the project, journalists stated that they are determined to prevent the spread of sexist content (88%), continue to maintain a gender balance when seeking experts’ comments (63%), and will continue to produce stories about women’s successes and their contribution to society (63%). OstroV’s team was interviewed about the project’s impact on their work. Vladyslav Bulatchyk, the outlet’s correspondent on parliamentary issues, said: “Working on the project allowed us to look at gender issues in Ukraine in a different way, what exactly inequality is. On the one hand, I realized how much more needs to be done in our country to create truly equal conditions for men and women, and on the other hand, I saw how many people understand this topic and are ready to promote the ideas of gender equality.”

Alina Kondratenya said that she continues to fill the news feed for Donetsk region with reports about projects and initiatives that support women and write news pieces about domestic violence. “Domestic violence is a special focus, because it is an extremely negative phenomenon in our society,” she added.

In the words of, Yaroslav Kolhushev, the night editor of the newsfeed: “I was astonished that it was not long ago that boys and girls used to study separately. But today I wonder why it was only recently that men were granted the right to parental leave. The topic of gender inequality, as well as racism or other forms of discrimination, cannot be neglected.”

The editorial board believes that OstroV’s experience prompted colleagues elsewhere to change their approaches to the topic of gender balance among another outlet in the East: online media Kramatorsk.Post confirmed that it followed the example of OstroV in adopting the gender policy for its newsroom, and now produces reports on gender-related topics.

Attention to women and gender issues had a positive effect on the site’s audience. Over the nine months of the project, OstroV increased its female audience from 36% to almost 53% by September 2021. During this time, the frequency of the use of female nouns to describe women in professional roles has tripled. Thanks to the project, the gender sensitivity index has doubled, increasing from 16% in April 2020 (before the launch of the project) to 29% in September 2021.

The work on gender equality had even further-reaching ramifications for women’s representation. Serhii Harmash, the head of OstroV, was invited to act as a consultant to the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group (TCG). Harmash urged civil society organizations representing Internally Displaced People to delegate female representatives from the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions to the Humanitarian Working Group of Minsk TCG to tackle humanitarian issues.

The initiative was supported by the government, and as a result, lawyer Tetiana Ivanova and co-founder of the “Vostok-SOS” NGO Yulia Krasylnykova joined the working group.

Photo: Maria Berlinska, a veteran of the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Ukraine’s East and head of the volunteer organization “Center for Aerial Reconnaissance Support,” in an interview with OstroV